Book Tour is a new Web feature and podcast. Each week we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.
In a sprawling, old-fashioned whodunit called New England White, novelist Stephen L. Carter unravels the murder of a noted Ivy League economist. The story's setting is the fictional college town of Elm Park — which Carter, a Yale University law professor, insists "is not a thinly disguised New Haven."
Whatever his inspiration, the multilayered New England White is more than just a campus thriller. The book's heroes, Lemaster and Julia Carlyle, are an accomplished, well- connected, upper-middle-class African-American couple whose fictional family saga offers a window into a rarely seen part of our culture.
"I've always been fascinated with the older families who have education and money and a variety of things that the culture counts as achievements," Carter says. "The notion that there have been such families in the African-American community fascinates me."
Over the course of a decade, Carter wrote seven nonfiction books on such wide-ranging subjects as the role of affirmative action and the relationship between religion and politics, establishing himself as one of the country's leading intellectuals. The 2002 publication of his best-selling thriller The Emperor of Ocean Park, which mixes themes of race, class, and religion into a suspense-filled plot, proved him equally adept at writing fiction.
Of the two types of books, Carter says that nonfiction, though difficult, is more straightforward.
"A book like this, I sweat blood," he says, discussing New England White. "There's always a point in writing a novel where I get sick."
Nonetheless, he adds, it's not surprising that lawyers who write are naturally drawn to mysteries. "A thriller is really a chain of, 'What if this happened, what if this happened, what if this happened,' which is exactly the way that lawyers are trained to think."
This reading of New England White took place in June 2007 at the Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.